Friday, December 14, 2007

Q: When Is Spinning One's Wheels Dangerous? A: When Doing So Requires the Consumption of Scarce Fuel that Might Carry One to More Healthy Ground!

Here’s an article about how a company called Wireless Generation has been given a big US Dept. of Ed. grant to extend to math instruction the magic it’s worked with its mCLASS PDA reading software. Hmmmmmm....

From: eSchool News
"Solution aims to transform math assessment: Already revolutionizing early-literacy assessment via handheld technology, Wireless Generation seeks to boost elementary math"

How does the software work? According to the article, it allows teachers to roam the classroom and enter data about student “math proficiency, monitor their progress, and learn about their thought processes.”

I wonder though, are we better off with software the helps teachers better understand where their students’ thinking goes wrong in approaching traditional goals of math learning OR would more benefits be accrued from software that engages youngsters in activities that illustrate and model for them habits of mind and thinking strategies that are effective in a reconceived curriculum?

Herbert Ginsberg, math education ‘expert’ cited in the article states:

”... children seem to fall into four groups when it comes to math problems.

  • The first group of students will get the answer right and will understand the process behind the math problem.
  • A second group arrives at the correct answer, but students in this group can't always determine how they arrived at the right answer.
  • Students in the third group have a good understanding of the process, but get the answer wrong owing to sloppy mistakes.
  • And students in the fourth group, Ginsburg said, get the answer wrong and don't seem to understand the process or might need extra help.

OK… But of course we have to wonder about math instruction so focused on ‘the right answer.’ More to the point, though, this is clearly an approach to the use of technology in which the professional educator has decided that the existing instructional program (curriculum and pedagogy) is essentially fine, and the technology can help get better results with kids within that structure. Small wonder this group gets grants like this one. Its mission is to make the existing paradigm work in the face of much evidence that it is faulted, not to challenge it.

Ginsburg continues:
"I see this as helping the teachers to understand the kids better--it's not just to get a score,"

"Don't think of your students only as people who get the answer right or wrong; they have concepts and strategies, and that's what we have to focus on. Once a teacher finds out a student has one concept but not another, then we try to link all this up with instructional suggestions for teachers."

Fine, but why not apply the awesome power of technology to creating engaging resources that model thinking strategies for kids, not simply helping instructional hacks figure out better where they ought to apply more effort in hammering home the same, tired old teaching again and again? Technologies, like gaming, can put sparkle, interest, and extraordinary INSIGHT into the learning experience! Why use tech to get more mileage out of a dying paradigm when it can be used to give birth to a new one?

Putting the final touches on what seems to be a confession of being totally committed to going down with the ship of old paradigm education, he continues:

"It's hard for some people to understand that this isn't a math test; this is a teacher talking with a student about how he or she solves a problem," he said. "Kids love that attention and like talking with an adult who takes them seriously."

I agree, kids do love that attention and hopefully they are getting it from an adult who merits it and who's engaging them in actitivies worthy of their future!

Gingsburg added: "I think we really are doing something interesting and unique."

Well, you are doing some-thing. And though unique it may be, I think it's misguided! - one of those 2 steps backward we seem to be forever fated to take as we move 3 steps forward:(


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